- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

Law enforcement authorities responded quickly yesterday to an unrelated series of protests and demonstrations across the District.

Ten demonstrators were arrested shortly after 11 a.m. when they chained themselves across the main entrance of the U.S. Justice Department and chanted slogans for the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

Organizers said the 10 intended to be arrested as part of a national day of action and "civil disobedience" orchestrated by marijuana advocacy groups in 55 cities.

While a team of Federal Protective Services (FPS) police carted the demonstrators from the Justice Department at 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, D.C. police were keeping a close eye on two other rallies cranking up on Capitol Hill.

At 10 a.m., a smattering of protesters toting picket signs gathered outside the Exxon station in the 200 block of Massachusetts Avenue NE, calling on the United States not to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

By 10:30, however, the protesters found themselves outnumbered by a throng of more than 50 counterdemonstrators, who arrived with their own picket signs and began chanting: "Cheap Oil Now! Cheap Oil Now! Cheap Oil Now!"

The first group, calling itself the "Stop ExxonMobil Alliance" a coalition of Ralph Nader's Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Amnesty International and Greenpeace that opposes drilling in the Alaskan refuge was taking part in its own national day of action, occurring in 17 American cities.

"For years, ExxonMobil has created human-sacrifice zones around its facilities and sabotaged actions to stop global warming," said Neal Kemkar, an outreach director for PIRG. "They constantly deceive the public on the issues, and their industry-funded lobby group here today proves they have something to hide."

The counterdemonstration, consisting mostly of Capitol Hill interns, was spearheaded by the Washington-based taxpayer-advocacy organization Americans for Tax Reform. The organization's president, Grover Norquist, said he found out in advance that "the left" would be demonstrating against Exxon.

"There's no reason in the world to let them take a cheap shot at America or at freedom for the sake of publicity," Mr. Norquist said. "We decided to show up to make it hard for them, and I think that we won."

While the group waved signs reading "Stop Global Whining" and "Capitalism Rocks," several self-described "soccer moms" drove by in American-flag-draped minivans, honking their horns.

The counterdemonstration also featured a person wearing a Saddam Hussein mask, carrying an "I hate America" poster and another dressed in a suit representing Exxon's tiger mascot with an "SUVs are g-r-r-e-e-a-t" sign.

Neither Mr. Norquist nor the PIRG had police-issued permits to demonstrate, but an officer standing nearby said, "You don't need a permit to demonstrate if you're just walking on the sidewalk."

Exxon employees said they weren't surprised by the demonstrations. "They do this every year at about the same time," gas station clerk Joseph Rohayem said. "We don't call the police unless they set up barricades or otherwise obstruct our customers."

The 10 medicinal-marijuana demonstrators arrested at the Justice Department were affiliated with the District-based Marijuana Policy Project. They were fined $50 each and charged by FPS officers with "blocking an entrance to a federal building," said David Bethel, a spokesman for the General Services Administration, which oversees the FPS police.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide